« PreviousContinue »
not to tell Philip for fear that I should mention the Duke of Durham ? It did seem unlikely that Constance should not have told him where she was staying. Be that as it might, a lie had been told concerning the manner of Constance's leaving Mrs. Brown's with Lady Dunsmore. I think if I heard Constance's name coupled with the Duke's once that night, I heard it a dozen times.; and when I thought of Philip's faith in her, of his love and devotion to her, I, in my indignation, hated her, and her wonderful, fatal beauty. Another thing I heard that evening was, that Lord Alton had gone abroad because he could not get over his disappointment. So altogether I brought away a fund of uncomfortable thoughts, which lay like lead on my mind; and if I tried to throw them away and say it was no concern of mine, it was of no avail. Whatever concerned Philip concerned me, and this matter above all, for on it was staked the happiness of his future life. The next day was Tuesday. Still uneasy and restless, I set off by myself, after my solitary dinner, for a long walk. I made a circuit among the suburbs of London, going wherever my fancy took me, and re-entered at the West End. It was late, and the streets were noisy with constantly passing carriages. A crowd outside some great house made me slacken my speed; they were watching the unloading of a line of carriages full of ladies and gentlemen in evening dress, who were crowding into the house, every window in which was lighted. The party was a very large one; many famous names were spoken by the crowd, as various carriages moved along the line. So many people had gathered together, that I was at one time unable to make my way along the pavement, and stood still perforce just under a street lamp. Everybody around me amused themselves by staring into the carriage windows, and seeing nothing else to be done, I followed their example. It was rather entertaining. The carriage close to me contained four ladies, very middle-aged and unescorted, who were evidently much alarmed at the crowd, and jumped and shrieked occasionally, although the people near them were very well behaved, and offered them no annoyance beyond a few personal remarks. The next carriage that came on held a lady and gentleman and two young ladies ; they were all laughing and talking, looking out of the carriage windows, and bent on enjoying themselves anywhere. That carriage moved on; another took its place, a quiet handsome carriage, with a pair of fine grey horses, and servants in unexceptionable livery. If I had not known the carriage, the remarks of those around me might almost have told me who was inside it. I had heard every expression of admiration, rather more choicely rendered, not twenty-four hours since. Yes, the carriage was Lady Dunsmore's. I was trying to move in a direction contrary to that pursued by the line of carriages, so that I faced the occupants of the back seats. Those I now faced were Constance and Lady Dunsmore. Constance sat on the side next the pavement, full in sight of the people on it. Their admiration found words, and was loudly spoken, but she seemed heedless of it. She was leaning forward a little, speaking to some one on the front seat. I quickly recognised the Duke of Durham. Constance held a beautiful bouquet, over which they were bending. The gaslight shone full on them. The Duke was making choice of a flower from the bouquet; before they moved on he chose one. I could not see Lady Dunsmore's face, it was hidden from me. But the light fell so strongly on Constance that I could see every feature—the great dark eyes, the sweet expressive mouth, and soft rounded cheeks, even the crimson flower in her hair, and something there besides that, a dazzling star which glittered in the light, a star of diamonds. It was a splendid one, and another like it shone in the front of her dress; other ornament she wore none, a narrow band of black velvet was round her white throat. Once more the line of carriages moved on. The people around said no one would be worth seeing after the lady who had gone by, she was the best sight of the whole of them. And one woman close to me said to her husband that “that lady had a face like an angel; she was sure of it; nobody nor nothing could be more beautiful.” It was only an angel's mask, and behind it was a face not angelic at all; beautiful, but deceitful, as the face of Judas might have been. I have heard that great allowances should be made for the faults of handsome men and beautiful women, because they are more tempted than their plainer brethren ; but I was never less willing to be merciful than now. The sight of those diamonds enraged me. I knew instinctively that they were none of Lady Dunsmore's. No, they were Constance's, and the Duke had given them to her. How could she do it? How dared she do it? Knowing as I did the girl's worldly calculating mind, I thought she would never have received them did she not contemplate the Duke as a suitor; and should he become one, Philip stood no chance. It was horrible to think of, that so true a heart, so devoted and passionate a love, should be deliberately cast away for any earthly thing. A woman who could coolly place them in the scale against a superior title and greater wealth, combined as they were with such a person as the Duke of Durham, what shall we say of her ?
That night I wrote to Philip. I wrote of other things, whatever I could think of to make up a letter, and only said, that at Mrs. George Hamilton's, on Monday night, I had met Constance and Lady Dunsmore.
Wednesday passed away uneventfully. I had neglected my evening work sadly for the last week. Something had to be finished that night. It was a hard matter to bring my mind to bear upon it, but I succeeded after a time. My task was no easy one.
Hour after hour wrote, until the daylight came, and long after that. As I pushed
away my finished task from me I heard a rattling at the front door. I went out, unfastened and opened it. Philip stood on the doorstep, and down the deserted street drove the hansom in which he had
What, Philip? I did not expect to see you to-night.”
“It was your letter which brought me home,” he said, as we entered the parlour together. I felt horribly guilty when I saw how white and stern he looked. He sat down at the table, resting his elbows on it, and with his head between his hands, looked fixedly at me in the cold morning light.
"I did not expect a letter from you,” he said slowly ; "so when yours came I looked to find something of consequence in it. There was only one piece of news which concerned me in it—that Constance and Lady Dunsmore were together at Mrs. Hamilton's. Was that what you wrote to tell me ?”
“Is that all you wanted me to know, or is there something more in the background ? Speak out, Ned, don't torture me. Let me hear all you have to say.” ”
Not knowing where or how to begin, I stood a minute silent. Philip spoke again. “Was there any one else you knew at Mrs. Hamilton's ???
Yes, Miss Vyvyan was there," and I in my cowardice named two or three others.
6 Was Lord Alton there ?” “No, he is abroad."
“For pity's sake speak out, Ned. I knew when your letter came that something was going wrong, and every word you say shows me that it is so.
Who was there ?" “I wish I had never written. I know if you question me that what you hear will anger you, and then Constance will never forgive
.” I never felt so miserably idiotic as when I made that speech. It did exasperate Philip. Ned, what a fool you must think me ! First
write to tell me something, you only tell me a half of it, and keep back the rest—and now, when I ask you for the whole truth, you imply again that there is something wrong, and yet keep it back from me. Will you at once who was at Mrs. Hamilton's ?”
“ The Duke of Durham was there.”
Philip leapt from his chair, his eyes flamed, the blood rushed to his face, and he clenched his hands. Did he remember his prophecy that Constance would marry Lord Alton, unless she jilted him for a duke?
“I see it now," he cried; “I see it all now! Ned, I'm sorry I spoke so to you; be patient with me, and answer my questions." He did not sit down again, but stood facing me across the table.
“ Was that the first time you saw her with Lady Dunsmore ?" be asked.
“No, I saw her on Saturday at the Opera.”
you seen her since ?”
Ned, tell me the honest truth. Do you think that this man loves her ?”
“I believe he does."
I hated myself for the stabs which I knew my answers inflicted on Philip's heart; but I had begun, and having begun, could not now draw back. I answered with perfect truth :
“She smiles, and seems pleased.”
“Good heavens!” he cried bitterly; "how false these women are !"
He stood where he was, without speaking, for the space of five minutes. A dreadful silence was in the room.
“I think,” he said, breaking the silence abruptly, “that Lady Dunsmore might have regarded my wishes, though perhaps Constance is as much to blame as she is. Ned, I won't ask what you think of me, but I cannot give Constance up, even if she have tried to be a duchess. I know how great my folly, my infatuation, is, but I cannot-I cannot-cease to love her; when I cease to live I may, but before that I never shall-never! I must see her to-morrow-I mean to-day,” he said, with a sorry smile ; I will go there early. But, Ned !” he cried suddenly, stretching out his hand across the table to me,“ though I am so wrapt up in Constance, I cannot lose you, so long my only friend, my more than brother. I will not tell Constance that you wrote and said you had seen her.”
“Too late, Philip, the thing is done. Constance and I have quarrelled.”
“ When ? and about what ?"
“At Mrs. Hamilton's. She thought I was watching her, and felt annoyed, I suppose, and so spoke out her mind.”
“You were vexed with her for my sake, and spoke and looked your thoughts. Thank you, Ned, it was kind and honest. I am glad you spoke to her before you wrote and told me, but I am sure I can make peace between you, if you will take no notice of what she said. Do it, Ned, pray; I cannot leave her, or love her less, but I want our friendship to stand fast.”
Philip,” I said, “ Constance can always, if she please, turn away my anger, and for your sake I would forgive her anything.
“That's right, Ned; thank you. Heigh-ho! I am tired out. Short allowance for sleep between this and eight o'clock.”
We said good-night, and parted.
“ A life's libation lifted up, from her proud lip she dashed untasted.
There trampled lay love's costly cup, and in the dust the wine was wasted. She knew I could not pour such wine again at any other shrine.”
OWEN MEREDITH. NEVER, until I die, or until my memory fails me completely, can I forget what happened on that eventful Thursday, in the morning of which Philip came home from Hatherleigh. I can look back and see every scene—hear every word, as plainly as I saw and heard them then. So deeply are the events of that day stamped on my mind, that the impression is now as perfect as it was on the day, the hour, after they occurred. Thousands of events, important enough at the time, fade completely from our memories, or slumber quietly there until some one recalls them by speaking of the past. Others are indelible, never effaced, never forgotten; such are the events of this day—from morning until evening a most remarkable day. Philip came down in the morning pale and tired, but scrupulously welldressed. I remember thinking how uncommonly gentlemanly he was, in manner, dress, and appearance, as he came into the room. And once more let me say, that, true gentleman as he was in outward things, he was even more so in mind. And, if you should wish to know what a gentleman in mind is, read what Thackerary, in · Vanity Fair,' says of William Dobbin. Such men are very scarce, strangely scarce, in our ultra-civilised nineteenth century. Somewhere in the Middle Ages they seem to have been numerous, and noble, but eccentric. I should say the Georgian period of our history was deficient in them. They are always rare. Tennyson's Arthurian knights, Sir Percivale and Sir Bors, might have been such, and Sir Bevidere but for his lack of truth. Now Philip was true in word and